#5 - Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
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Considering the economic turmoil of recent years, I thought this book was a fitting choice. Most of the architects that I know tend to agree that architects are dramatically affected by the state of the economy, more so than most professions. One of the backdrops to this book is that the workers in the story are portrayed as victims of the great depression, therefore forced to travel from place to place where they can find work. This, however, is not the lesson for architects. On the contrary, I believe that the state of the economy is a poor excuse for employment woes in any profession, but I digress.
Of Mice And Men is relevant to architects because of the unlikely meeting of characters with particular strengths and weaknesses. Four characters are of particular interest. Lenny is a mentally handicapped man, but in contrast to his challenged intellect has enormous physical strength. Lenny has few cares in the world, but loves touching soft things. He is also a devoted friend to George. George is a smart and witty character who is best friends with Lenny and looks after him. George's strength is with people. He is both a leader and a visionary. He sees the larger picture and helps lead his friends to the promise of a better tomorrow as homesteaders. Candy is an older handyman that lost his hand in an accident years prior. He fears that his age will eventually make him useless and he'll lose his job without anyone to care for him. He's willing to invest his life savings with the others to remedy his situation. Crooks is an African-American ranch-hand that is segregated from everyone on the ranch because of his skin color. Crooks wishes to come with the three men to their homestead and hoe the garden and lead a more fulfilling life. All of these characters have skills and attributes that compliment the others in pursuit of their dream, yet they all ultimately suffer from the same conditions of loneliness and fear for the future. What they find together is a solution to their struggles that none of them can remedy individually.
This is the lesson for architects; architects need each other. Although we all (mostly) carry the same title, we all bring different skills to the table and have diverse backgrounds. I remember showing up to orientation for graduate school and having every background from physics and economics to philosophy and art history; not many in architecture. Individually we had huge deficiencies, but as we went through our studio each of our skills contributed to solving the design problems we faced. The workplace is really no different. You have people with technical, graphic, sales, marketing, concepting, programing, writing and numerous other skills necessary to practice architecture. Thus the more we depend on each other's strengths, the more successful (and efficient) we all become.
If you look at the Frank Gehry's, the Zaha Hadid's and the Daniel Libeskind's of the world, you'll notice they all have a sizable support staff helping them assemble their projects. I heard Frank Gehry concede that he probably couldn't even work without a team at this point in his career because he has learned to lean so heavily upon them. Successful people see their own shortcomings and seek those that are strong where they are weak. No architect is an island.